Sunday, March 22, 2009

Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990)

Nina (Juliet Stevenson) is having a hard time coping with the death of her boyfriend Jamie (Alan Rickman). In fact, she has mostly fallen apart, withdrawing from life, refusing to go out and refusing to take care of every day things at home. While she has many people that care for her, she is stuck in a mire of depression and sees no way out. That is, until Jamie returns from the dead. Their happiness is somewhat short lived when he starts bringing all his ghost friends over and she begins to think that maybe she really does need to get out and start working on building a life for herself again.

Alan Rickman who plays Jamie who plays the cello

This is such a clever and intelligent movie. Again, I kinda loathe a lot of the ghost fare that gets passed around, but this is a great little character drama. Juliet Stevenson does a wonderful job of playing a woman completely arrested by grief and depression, trying to act like she is not. Rickman is wonderful as her ghostly boyfriend. I never knew Rickman could portray a charming love interest?

I really love that this movie addresses the fantasy of what it would be like to have your loved one back after death. This is the fantasy many people have had when they lose someone they love. It also addresses what it might be like for the deceased watching someone they love lock themselves away from the world due to their pain and anguish. If you watch this one, just keep in mind what you think Jamie's true motivation is for coming back and all of it will make sense. It is such a beautiful story.

The one thing that I didn't like about this is the choice of the other love interest, Sandy (Bill Paterson). Nothing against Bill personally, but Nina's relationship with Jamie was based off a love of music and conversations and, well, they fit together. I didn't really see what Nina saw in Sandy. Yes, he was a nice guy, but I didn't feel any chemistry there. Not only that, but I just found him darn annoying. She obviously has to make a choice, but I didn't see Sandy giving Jamie much of a run for his money, even if he happens to be dead. If it had been me, I would have ditched annoying guy for dead guy, but I think that would have ruined the movie.

My favorite scene is available here on YouTube, where Rickman and Stevenson do an adorable duet of the Walker Brothers hit "(The) Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore". It is perfect for showing the fun they have together and why they were in love to begin with.

This is a great little British independent film. It is not a comedy so much as a drama, but it does have light moments here and there. It has a wonderful script, good acting and a great director, Anthony Minghella, who actually passed away suddenly and much too young, just like the main character in this film. Wow, another one I recommend. I seem to be on a roll.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Too Hot To Handle (1938)

Chris Hunter (Clark Gable) and Bill Dennis (Walter Pidgeon) are rival newsreel men who are constantly trying to out scoop the other. If the stories get thin, sometimes improvisation is needed. After being scooped by Hunter with a less-than-truthful newsreel, Dennis decides to fake his own story to beat Hunter at his own game. Unfortunately, Alma Harding (Myrna Loy) gets drug into the mess and soon both men are rivals again, but this time for her affections.

Lobby Card for Too Hot To Handle

That is a very high-level view of the plot. There is also a sub-plot about Alma being a top female aviator who is out to find her brother, whose plane crashed along the Amazon. She will take almost any job just to try to raise enough money for her expedition to find what became of her brother.

This is an example of one of those movies where suspension of disbelief is a must. It isn't a bad film at all, it just has it's quirks and if you are up for a fun adventure where you throw any questions about "They can't really fly over a ship that blew up and survive, can they?" then this is for you. I don't want to sound like I didn't enjoy this one - I really did. I love fun adventures and this one really fits the bill.

One of the highlights of this film is the competition between Gable and Pidgeon. They are excellent as the stereotypical newsmen who would sell their own mothers to get a decent story. The dialogue between them is excellent as they take jab after jab at each other. The downside of their ruthless "win at all costs" nature is that it makes it hard to believe that either are really in love with Loy. It seems more like another competition they are in just to show who is better at winning rather than a true attempt to win a woman's heart. One of my favorite lines from the movie was Gable saying to Pidgeon, "With the way you looked at her with those calf eyes just now, you'd let her walk on you with spiked shoes." Great line.

I have made no secret of the fact that Gable is not a favorite leading man of mine. He always seems kinda slick and oily. You know? Icky car salesmaney. However, I have had a friend feeding me some of his movies to attempt to sway me and, sway me he has. I see now that my first impression as slick and oily is really more rascally than anything else. Rascally = good. Oily = bad. After watching "Wife vs. Secretary", "Mutiny on the Bounty" and this one as well as re-watching "It Happened One Night", I concede he is a dang fine actor with a fair bit of range. He still isn't at the top of my male lead list, but I no longer cringe when I see him on the credits - this is a vast improvement for me, I assure you.

I definitely recommend this one if you get some time to watch it. Of course, it is another one you will have to try to catch on TCM as it isn't on DVD. However, it is a fun adventure and the newsman competition angle is great. Plus, you get to see Gable jump around in some version of a strange chicken suit. You can't beat that!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Milk (2008)

Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) is a mostly closeted, gay insurance man that decides he is tired of seeing the entire gay population in America discriminated against without repercussion. So he comes out in the open with who he really is, moves in with his partner Scott Smith (James Franco) and decides that the only way things will change is to be elected to office as an openly gay man. Only then will their interests truly be represented and only then will they take the first steps to making discrimination against homosexuals unlawful.

The more I have thought about the film over the past few days since watching it, the better the film becomes in my mind. This is a story with which I hope anyone can draw inspiration. Everyone mentions Harvey Milk as a gay hero, but I think it is important to say that he is an American hero. It doesn't matter what class of citizen was being discriminated against, Milk saw discrimination and was the only one brave and clever enough to go about fighting to make a change. I felt the timing of this movie couldn't have been better because so many people watch this and think, "Wow - I can't believe things were so bad way back then. Glad I live in 2009 when that isn't an issue." It still is an issue though. This film focused on Milk's fight against Prop 6 in California, but last year, it was Prop 8 aimed to discriminate. The only sad part was there wasn't a Harvey Milk to successfully fight it this time.

As far as the movie itself, this one is all about Sean Penn. Every time I watch him disappear into a role I am reminded what a magnificent actor he is. Yes, I am sure he is a real jerk, but he is a jerk that can really act. Since I will never meet him, I would much rather watch the jerk that can act rather than the nice guy who is mediocre. Yet again, he delivers an amazing performance where you truly see him as Harvey Milk. I don't know of a current actor today that is that good at blending into his different characters so that he completely disappears before your eyes. I can certainly see why he won the Oscar this year.

One of the strongest parts of this film is how they don't make Milk a saint. The show him as being driven to the point of alienating his partner, they show him as having a "white knight" complex where his ego drives him to try to save everyone. I mean, they don't gloss over the flaws in his personality and it gives you a multi-dimensional character that is interesting to watch develop into a hero.

The only minor complaint about this one is that the Dan White's (Josh Brolin) character wasn't quite developed enough for me. You have to understand that I was barely out of diapers when all of this took place so I wasn't aware of this story at all until the movie came about. As such, I had no idea who Dan White was or why he was driven to take action. I think they hinted at several motives, but I am not certain it all came together for me. I understand not focusing on the bad guy while trying to do this inspirational movie, but I would have liked to understand White a little more. I don't think it was just him being a bigot, I think it was a lot more than that, but I am not 100% certain what the 'more' was.

Yet again, I have to say this film is a winner. It is highly recommended for three reasons. 1) Sean Penn's performance. It was just outstanding. 2) The reminder that when a nation allows a government to oppress any class of citizen, it gives them more power to oppress any and all classes of citizens. 3) As corny and silly as it always sounds, one person who is passionate and driven enough, can make a difference. Watch this one - Milk is good for you.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Mrs. Miniver (1942)

The Minivers are an English family about to experience war up close and personal. As the war comes to their idyllic little town, they struggle to keep a normal existence and hold the family together. Mrs. Miniver (Greer Garson) manages to keep her young children safe and happy while she worries over the fate of her husband Clem (Walter Pidgeon) and her oldest son Vin (Richard Ney) as they do their part for the war effort.

The Minivers in a tiny tin can (aka bomb shelter)

I really liked this one. What a moving story about a family that is determined to not let outside events disrupt or tear them apart. One of the most touching scenes, to me, was the one pictured above. Mr. and Mrs. Miniver, with their two young children and of course, the cat, all cramped inside a tin can of a bomb shelter while bombs are landing on their home. Rather than be upset, they take their tea and try to chat with each other as they did after dinner every night before the war tried to take over. Just the iron will of this family is amazing - what courage it must have taken to carry on light conversation while your house is a mere, 100 ft away and most likely being blown to bits. At one point her young boy says to her, "Mommy, they nearly killed us this time didn't they?" I can't even begin to imagine how horrible something like that would be to live through. The movie almost makes me feel ashamed for my whole pampered generation.

It is no surprise that this wonderful movie cleaned up at the Oscars in 1943. Greer Garson won for Best Actress in a Leading Role and I can see why on that point too. I thought Greer Garson was absolutely lovely in this. So beautiful and charming. Such a woman of character who tried to be kind to all and keep her family foremost in her mind. Of course, Mrs. Miniver's taste in hats should be reconsidered, but that might be her only flaw. :-)

One odd note I made when I watched the film was how Mrs. Miniver and Vin seemed to be unusually close. I thought that in one of the scenes where Vin kisses his girlfriend and then kisses his mom, Mrs. Miniver. I made a quick note of "He seems to be more interested in kissing his Mom than he does his girl." Well, I had a good laugh when I was discussing the movie with a friend and he mentioned that after the film wrapped, Mrs. Miniver married her son! Well, I mean Greer Garson married Richard Ney. Maybe I was imagining it, but I challenge you to go find that scene and compare kisses, then come back and talk to me.

Lastly, I think many people have complained that this movie had a propagandic message and they think that wasn't appropriate. I honestly don't know what "these people" expect, really? Artists use their talents for what they are passionate about. They draw inspiration, for better or for worse, from the events going on around them. The propaganda claim is very true as William Wyler admitted that he made this film for that reason. He wanted the Nazis stopped and even personally joined the war effort after the film was over. I don't see that as any reason to discount this film, no matter what your view on the matter of "propaganda" might be. "Those people" are silly, in MY opinion.

Anyway, all in all, I really have absolutely nothing negative to say about this film aside from her hideous taste in hats. It is a great film start to finish. I highly recommend this one, without hesitation.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Wanted (2008)

From Netflix: "Wesley Gibbon (James McAvoy) is just an ordinary guy, unaware that his long-lost father is one of the world's most notorious assassins. But when his father is killed, a mysterious associate named Sloan (Morgan Freeman) arrives, offering Wesley the chance to fill dad's shoes. Mentored by Sloan's deputy, Fox (Angelina Jolie), Wesley carries out the will of the mythological Fates, who see Wesley's targets in a magical loom."

James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie

Yup, they pick who to kill from a 'magical loom'. No joke. Maybe I am getting too old to really enjoy these kinds of nonsensical action movies. Don't get me wrong, I like action movies. I enjoy the "turn off brain, watch the chaos - isn't this fun?" part of it. However, a lot of the recent action movies are not enjoyable to me. Why? Well, they have turned into silly cartoon versions of movies where the laws of any science are completely tossed out the window and reality is a joke.

Let's take this movie as an example. Yes, James McAvoy is the son of an assassin who is then trained to be an assassin. I don't care HOW much training you get for your entire life - you can't be trained to override the laws of physics. They are LAWS. So, you can't shoot a bullet in a circle and have it enter 6 different peoples heads, around that circle - and keep going - to kill every single one of them. First of all, hello, the bullet is traveling in a circle. Second of all, velocity and momentum changes as an object hits other objects - in many situations, trajectory will change too. None of this applies in this, supposedly normal, but yet superhuman assassin training camp.

I just can't get into that. Is it that I am getting too old? Maybe.

It reminded me of the movie "Crank" that I saw recently. They similarly did crazy stuff that couldn't have been possible, but they did it with a wink and a nod, making fun of themselves knowing they were defying all logic and all laws. It wasn't serious and wasn't meant to be. That was OK with me. However, this was supposed to be an in-your-face, cool action thriller. You know, with a group of assassins that get their assignment from ... a loom. Uh huh.

Unless you have a huge crush on Angelina Jolie or just a die-hard comic book, action film fan - totally skip this. The few fun parts (mainly where MacAvoy tells off his horrible boss) are not worth all the frustration you feel when watching the totally implausible rest of the movie.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Search (1948)

What happened to all the children whose parents died in the Holocaust? This film focuses on the plight of one such child, Karel 'Jimmy' Malick (Ivan Jandl), who was sent to a concentration camp and miraculously survived. However, he is a shell of a child, so scarred that he has largely lost his memory and afraid to even try to remember. Karel ends up running away because he doesn't understand the difference between American soldiers and German soldiers and doesn't understand he is safe. He eventually is befriended by a GI, Ralph 'Steve' Stevenson (Montgomery Clift) who takes care of him while they try to sort out who he is and what happened to his family.

Ivan Jandl as Karel 'Jimmy' Malick

This is an absolutely stunning film. Do you see that little face up there in the picture? He will break your heart into a thousand pieces. It is not just his though, the other little boys and girls will tear you apart too. The thing that I loved about this film is that it was one part documentary and one part silent film and one part drama. As such, it is one of the earlier examples (that I can list) of what is now commonly called a docudrama.

The boy who played Karel, was apparently a Czechoslovakian boy who couldn't speak a word of English, but had a face that conveyed emotion like nobody's business. I bring this up because Ivan had to learn all his lines phonetically and I think someone was smart enough not to load the film down with a ton of dialogue for him. Instead, they had the boy show his feelings and thoughts without words and the result was amazing. His face tells the story and does it brilliantly. The scenes where they let him be, without talking, ended up giving part of it a silent film feel which was perfect for the this film and the subject. What a brave little boy.

I also liked that a lot of this was filmed in postwar Germany. I say this because they show lots of streets completely lined in rubble where buildings once stood. The sheer amount of destruction is unfathomable for me because I have nothing (thankfully) in my experiences of which to compare. Then to think of families trying to live there and innocent children trying to grow-up there. It is ... sadness beyond words.

I should quickly mention a couple of the other stars. I really liked Aline MacMahon as Mrs. Murray, one of the ladies in charge of the children's homes. She was so compassionate without being overly sentimental and that was a difficult tightrope for her, I bet. And yes, Montgomery Clift was in this one as well. I still don't really like him much as a star, but he didn't do his famous fever acting (I guess he hadn't perfected the sweating and shaking technique yet) so I would say he did a good job in this one too.

I feel I should make a special note of the beautiful cinematography in this. I can't imagine the difficult task of trying to put such human tragedy on film. I don't know if it was the cinematographer or the director, Fred Zinnemann, that set up some of the shots, but they were beautiful. Like, for instance, the one below. They show restraint by not attempting to do a closer shot of the boy, they allow the beauty of the scene with this tiny boy, all alone, speak volumes to what the scene is about.

My only complaint about the entire film is that the ending felt abrupt. I won't ruin it for you, but I always hate when it feels like they say "Oh, we need to wrap this one up quick - end it now!" It doesn't leave it open, there is a definite resolution, but I really wanted a little more time to let the ending have an effect on me instead of having the shock of suddenly see the credits roll. This could easily be a personal preference though.

It is an understatement to say it is a crime and utterly unforgivable that this film is not on DVD. It is one that needs to be seen. I can't believe this masterpiece has not been released. Try to find it on TCM sometime - it is a beautiful, heartbreaking and wonderful film. I loved it. Even WITH Monty Clift in it. :-)